The coronavirus pandemic took an “alarming” toll on the food security, housing stability and mental health of millions of young people in the United States — especially among Black people and other people of color — according to a new study.
The conclusion and the accompanying recommendations are drawn from the results of an analysis of federal data by researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Howard University.
While news reports during the first year of the pandemic documented that the health effects of COVID-19 fell disproportionately on older people and people of color, the Chapin Hall-Howard analysis uncovered what researchers called “previously untold stories” about the devastation it brought down on vulnerable young people.
Researchers said they were alarmed to learn that about 4.9 million young adults ages 18-25 reported having had too little food at least once during the pandemic, on average. And about 3.8 million had little to no confidence that their household could scrape the next month’s rent together; nearly 1.3 million had no confidence.
The numbers spelled out the racial dimensions of food and housing insecurity. Black young adults reported food insecurity at about twice the rate of their white peers. Among single adult respondents renting their own places, Hispanic young adults were about twice as likely as white young adults to have little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent, while Black young adults were nearly three times more likely.
The survey analysis also revealed the psychosocial toll that the food and rent troubles caused. Fifty-four percent of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression disorders during the pandemic — significantly greater proportions than any other adult age group. Young adults of color did not, however, report higher rates of mental health difficulties than their white peers. Researchers said this finding might be chalked up to resilience factors, underreporting or both.
The researchers concluded that the young adults’ heightened difficulties during the health emergency will affect their health and their transition to adulthood, and crafted recommendations to minimize the effects. These include partnering with and supporting young adult Black people and other people of color, preventing youth homelessness and expanding and evaluating direct financial assistance and low-barrier housing resources.
Other recommendations in the study would ensure support for young people’s basic needs all the way through college; expand and improve virtual, culturally responsive mental health service delivery models; and invest in better data collection on basic needs and housing.